Pressure on Milosevic to go intensifies

Yugoslavia after the war: Mass rally against president in his stronghold as Moscow's forces finally join Nato's in Pristina
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The Independent Online
THE PRESSURE continued to build yesterday for the resignation of Slobodan Milosevic, with a protest under the slogan "Now Or Never" that brought thousands on to the streets last night in the town of Uzice, 120 miles south of Belgrade.

Speakers called for the resignation of the Yugoslav president and yesterday's rally was only the latest indication of the growing crisis for Mr Milosevic. In one of the most extraordinary protests yet seen, around 20,000 gathered in the south Serbian town of Leskovac on Monday night, in a demonstration called by a lone television employee at a moment's notice.

Ivan Novkovic, a programme director at TV Leskovac, interrupted the official broadcast during the half-time break of a basketball match between Yugoslavia and Germany. He broadcast a pre-recorded tape calling for his fellow citizens to go out and demonstrate in the town centre. Like a little-guy-against-the-system hero in a Hollywood movie, Mr Novkovic put his appeal on air before the authorities knew what was happening. His main demand was for the dismissal of the regional boss, Zivolin Stevanovic.

What came next may perhaps go down in the annals of Serb history, if the events of these days prove to be the beginning of the end for the regime. Those who witnessed the spontaneous eruption of anger - no microphones, lots of hoarse voices - say that 20,000 took part. State media and officials were reduced to complaining about Mr Novkovic's "abuse of the freedom of the media". Mr Novkovic has given voice to a revolution that seemed almost mute. Leskovacis a traditional Milosevic stronghold. It was heavily bombed in the war. One slogan chanted on Monday night was: "Leskovac is no longer red."

If passions are so easily inflamed, even in Leskovac, Mr Milosevic must be worried what might happen elsewhere. In the next fortnight, rallies are planned across Serbia. In many respects, the "now or never" slogan was correct. To echo a phrase much heard during the revolutions in Eastern Europe a decade ago: "if not now, when?"

Serbia is still confused. Most people are disillusioned with Mr Milosevic. Some are angry that he lost the war: he promised to protect Serbs, and yet Serbs are now fleeing Kosovo as never before. Others are angry that he has led the country into a political and economic cul-de-sac. The vast majority simply feels that enough is enough. Above all, they want to know: where is our back-pay? Bad enough that conscripts often remain unpaid even before the war. But when soldiers received no money even after risking their lives in Kosovo, that added insult to (sometimes literal) injury. Reservists have been at the forefront of many protests in recent weeks.

And for the first time, this welling up of anger comes from the provinces, not sophisticated Belgrade.

But President Milosevic has survived worse than this before. The demonstrations from 1996 to 1997 had a clear focus. They challenged local election results which everybody knew to be rigged. Once Mr Milosevic conceded defeat on the local election victory the opposition fell apart amid mutual recriminations.

Now the opposition is united only by a sense that all is not as it should be. The Serb regime does not survive because of its secret police, as did communist regimes in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, or Ceausescu in Romania. Instead, President Milosevic survives on dogged apathy.

Some of Mr Milosevic's supporters have faded into the background in recent weeks. The Serb Orthodox church has called for his resignation, after often being a bulwark of support in past years. Trade unions demand change, with posters in the centre of Belgrade asking: "What sort of Serbia do we want to live in?" One problem is that, for many Serbs, the answer remains unclear.

t Nato troops arrested a Bosnian Serb lawmaker and former prime minister on charges that he orchestrated "major ethnic cleansing operations" in the Bosnian civil war of 1992-5.

Radislav Brdjanin is the most senior Bosnian Serb civilian official yet to be arrested and transferred to the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The indictment accuses him of planning purges of non-Serbs from the Prijedor and Sanski Most regions of north-west Bosnia. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if he is convicted of the offences.